Tackling the UK’s ecological emergency

17 July 2022

The world is in the midst of a climate crisis. There is also another issue that threatens to reshape our planet unless we take action – the ecological emergency. Robin Johnson (PIEMA, ACIEEM and Project Manager at JBM Solar), explains how the company is responding to the environmental crisis and setting the standard for biodiversity net gain on solar energy projects.

The ‘State of Nature Report’ (2019) revealed that since the 1970s, 41% of all UK species have declined. 26% of the UK’s mammals are at risk of becoming extinct, and species such as the hedgehog have declined by 95% since the 1950s. The UK has already witnessed the extinction of several species such as the apple bumblebee, and the common tree frog. Unless we take action and reverse habitat loss, we risk losing many more species.

This trend can be reversed, there is still time to act. Here at JBM Solar, we’re spearheading a gold standard for biodiversity net gain on all of our solar projects. Biodiversity net gain isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds, in essence, it is an approach to development that delivers biodiversity improvements by creating new habitats or enhancing existing sites.

Building understanding

We sought to better understand what we could do to help native species thrive on our development sites, and worked with expert ecologists to create a blueprint for how we could leave a lasting positive environmental legacy. We have used this blueprint to go above and beyond what is legally required across all our solar developments.

Under Part 6 of the Environment Act (2021), new developments are legally required to show a minimum biodiversity net gain of 10%, using the Biodiversity Metric 3.0 as a means of measurement. We surpass this on all of our developments.

Setting the standard

The average net gains for our solar development sites are 120% for habitat (over 12 times the policy requirement) and 41% for hedgerows (over 4 times the policy requirement). This has been possible owing to our bespoke response to environmental management on each site.

Typically, we invest around £250,000 per project in ecological enhancements and soft landscaping. Our ecological enhancements often include the installation of bird boxes, insect hotels, bat boxes, and beehives. We also undertake significant soft landscaping to enhance local habitats, such as the planting of hedgerows, wildflower meadows, and native trees.

At the forefront of design

Our developments are at the forefront of nature-led design. Take our Raspberry Solar site in Swale. It will have a 154% biodiversity net gain for habitat and a 134% net gain for hedgerows. We have worked hard to ensure there will be a lasting positive legacy on the site. Specifically, to safeguard the future of the rare Shrill Carder species of Bee, we engaged with the Bumblebee Trust to better understand what measures we can put in place to provide a safe and inviting habitat for the bee population.

After discussions, we committed to planting 40 acres of new wild-flower meadows, with plant species conducive to the Shrill Carder bee, to encourage the rare pollinators to the Raspberry Solar site. We have also committed to delivering 7km of tree and hedge enhancement to benefit other local species.

Alongside the biodiversity enhancements we’re installing green infrastructure on the site to actively promote health and wellbeing in the local community, such as widening footpaths, installing educational boards, and placing new picnic benches in the area to help individuals reconnect with nature.

Biodiversity monitoring

We don’t just up sticks and leave once a site has been consented and built. We help to put in place a proactive monitoring schedule to assess our progress towards our biodiversity targets. This monitoring helps us to identify problems early on so they can be rectified.

We use the Natural Capital Best Practice Guidance Increasing Biodiversity at all Stages of a Solar Farm’s Lifecycle report, set out by Solar Energy UK, to steer our approach to implementation and monitoring. But we don’t stop there, we strive for excellence and to re-write the standards communities and landowners can expect of us. By working with specialist ecologists to monitor our sites, we can be sure that our solar projects are meeting environmental expectations and delivering on the promises we set out during the planning stages.

The ecological crisis facing the UK is clear for all to see, but we can reverse this decline and tackle the emergency through careful and considered investments in biodiversity enhancements and new habitat creation across all renewable developments. At each and every one of our solar sites, we are redefining best practice and ensuring that we deliver a gold standard project that delivers for people and planet.